Can you describe what you do?
I work for ‘Samenlevingsopbouw’, an organisation which aims to tackle social problems by empowering the target groups, as well as engaging the local government. We cover a variety of themes, such as education, energy supply, health, jobs etc…
I am now working on a new project called ‘Huis aan huis’ (which means ‘door to door’). We actively look for the specific problems in the neighbourhood, and my job is to find those people that stay under the radar and are hidden from the view of the social institutions. I work with these people to find out how they can tackle specific problems in their life to improve their own situation. By actively exploring and working in the field, I can also act as an observer and mediator for the institutions, providing feedback about the problems and working points I encounter.
I’ve been living in Nekkerspoel for a long time, and I love the mix of different people that is gathered here: young couples, elderly people, many different cultures…
How do you perceive Mechelen? In your view, what kind of city is it? Its people, its cultural landscape, its vibe? How does it compare to other, similarly-sized cities?
Our neighbourhood is exemplary for the change that Mechelen has gone through. I remember when I was young, Nekkerspoel had a lot of problems with drugs and criminality. So much in fact, it earned the nickname ‘gangsterpoel’. But now it has been completely cleaned up, and this in turn has resulted in more young families settling down here, the organisation of lots of social events and so forth. It is a great example of how Mechelen has transformed thanks to its development plan.
What would you say is Mechelen’s main appeal as a city? What gives it its edge?
The government invests a lot in promoting equal opportunity and citizen participation, with a good eye for the specific sensibilities and culture of every group in society. It is relatively easy for anyone with a good idea to take initiative and realise their project.
How has Mechelen contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?
I have always felt welcome and appreciated growing up and living in Mechelen, whether it was at school, at work or in everyday life. I think that naturally has an impact on your enthusiasm and general outlook on life. So in that sense, the city has certainly shaped me.
On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?
For many years, I worked in Brussels, and when I look at how social issues are managed here, I find little or no reason to complain.
To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Mechelen?
The diversity of Mechelen is actually a great asset when it comes to our culture and cuisine. So rather than give you my favourites, I’d advise you to go wander about and find something that tickles your fancy.samenlevingsopbouw.be